tv Southern Methodist University 2017 Commencement Address CSPAN June 3, 2017 12:31pm-1:13pm EDT
educated, i'm sure i'm a but, i trust wiser and more hopeful. there is a beautiful line in a poem the prelude in which the officer says, when we have love, others will love, and we will teach them how. the faculty at cmu has taught you went to know and love and now it is your turn to teach others what you have come to know and love. all a life of joy and purpose, fulfillment, and congratulations to the great class of 2017. thank you very much. [applause]
>> dr. francis collins is a geneticist and the head of the national institutes of health. his commencement address in dallas included a parody of frank sinatra's song my way. ♪ frank: it's not her to be here for everyone receiving a bachelor degree today. [laughter] that'sa wonder afternoon wonderful afternoon symposium talking about my medical research. you for the opportunity to get to know many of the faculty here in my brief stay. i particularly want to give a shout out to pete sessions who
is sitting right up there. hank you for extending this invitation allowing me to be here. also thank you for the role you thatas the house committee as a part of the house committee. he has been consistently on the right side of supporting the idea that medical research is not just a cost to the government, it is an investment in our future, the future of our nation, our nation's health, our economy. all of those things. so thank you. [applause] and congratulations mustangs and the class of 17. you did it. all right. [applause] i had the privilege of meeting with three of the phd graduates yesterday.
i got a sense of their energy, vision, enthusiasm, their camaraderie, and this is a place where people make friends and enjoy the experiences that don't just happen as you have everything ported your head in the classroom. you also have learned how to network and i don't necessarily facebook. you know exactly what the joys can be to be part of the university community where ideals are freely shared in debate and very i preach it the president said a few minutes ago about this being a campus where that kind of civil discourse is not just occasionally happening. it is part of the fabric of this institution. make ever be so. may it ever be so. [applause] i also noticed yesterday and today about the interdisciplinary approach that the university takes. i want to commend you for that. the way things are going, whether it's in science, humanities, etc., the boundaries
that have gotten in our way in terms of learning from each other and designing projects are falling way. those boundaries should follow a. and certainly in the health sciences. that i work with might be computer scientists, neuroscientists, physiologists, engineers, engineers, lots of them. that's what makes it so fun to be able to knock down boundaries and,people on your team together, the things we can do we could never have done alone. that is the way that science is going. i was delighted to see that this university does that in a very palpable way. what am i doing here? why is this an appropriate person to bring in front of you? you can decide later if that was a good -- if there was a good answer to that or not. [laughter] and giving a commencement address one has to think back upon one's own experience.
when i was graduating with a bachelor's degree in chemistry sorry, 1970. i just made myself younger than i am. [laughter] i don't remember what the commencement speaker said, so this is a little sobering. [laughter] [applause] i asked if i could use powerpoint, and they said no, we just don't do that. [laughter] some of my usual tricks are not available. it does make me reflective it on what i was thinking at that point, sitting in the seats use it in today. , i1970, as a chemistry major was convinced that my life was going to be as an academic physical chemist because that is what i learned to love. a phd inopic got physical chemistry doing quantum
mechanics research. biology,, iran into which i kind of considered was way too messy. maybe owes right about that. but, it became increasingly intriguing to have a chance to work in the sides were a lot of things seem to be happening, and where also, there was a chance for my love of science to connect up with something more concrete in terms of human impact. in a somewhat major crisis of what my career path would be, i completely blew up the plan and went to medical school. not something i really thought up until about then. why does good folks at the admissions committee is accepted this as a good reason to come to the medical school is a matter of some debate, but they did. i loved it from the beginning. it was science, but it was also about people. of particularly attracted to the field of genetics, because this is a part of medicine that is digital. those math here, you could do stuff with dna.
that is what i have enjoyed doing ever since. but, what to do? research is still calling to me and, ultimately, after more years of training, i ended up as a faculty member at the university of michigan teaching medical students, and doing research. it was a really interesting time where we were beginning to find theethods to causes of human illnesses that have been obscure. that was an amazing ride. , int this phone call then 1992, saying we need someone to lead the human genome project. would you be interested? i thought that sounded like something to talk about, because after all, the human genome project is an audacious idea of reading out all 3 billion letters of the human structure book and, if it works, it would be utterly transformative. most people at that point, thought it wouldn't work. so, do you want to join onto an effort that might be doomed?
and even further, you have to become a federal employee to do this. [laughter] you have to go to nih and run a center. i talked to my mom. [laughter] it's what you should do, right? [applause] [cheers] the, thatid, you know sounds really interesting job and it could be phenomenal if it succeeds. want you to follow your dreams, but there is one thing that i hope none of my foursomes would ever become is a federal employee. [laughter] it is the only time i ever disobeyed my mom because it just seemed like ok, this has to be something to try. i'm so glad i had the opportunity, and over the next 13 years, as we read out those letters of the human dna sequence, but by bit, it became more and more clear that this could actually succeed and we could actually do this and a lot of good by giving all this data
away. that is what we decided to do. every 24 hours, posting it on the internet for anyone that could try to figure it out of trying to make a use on this instruction book that we are all born with and, how can we make medical advances. towas an amazing experience be part of a group of 2400 scientists in six countries working together to achieve these goals. it is my job to be the project manager and make sure we did it right. then, we did it. then, there were other things to try to do to try to figure out how to read it. we had the letters in front of us in a funny language. we were just beginning readers and we had to learn what the syntax was. so the next five years, i spent trying to design other projects to do that. and, i guess restless decided, ok, enough of government service, i want to do something else. that didn't last very long.
nine months later i got called directorerve as the of human health. that was august 2009 when i took on that role. i thought that role would be something that i would do perhaps for the next seven or eight years, because the director of the nih historically has had a turnover when there is a new president. i sent my letter of resignation's like all the other appointees did an expected on june or 20th that i would have a different job. on january 18, i got in email that said very simply, very directly, your resignation letter has been rejected. [laughter] some have speculated it must've been the grammar. [laughter] or maybe i had a misspelled word or something. at any rate, i was asked and
still am to continue as the director of the national institutes of health. we think of it as the national institution of hope. [applause] i get to preside over this amazing engine of discovery at the time of unbelievable scientific promise. we talked about some of the scientific opportunities yesterday at the symposium. neuroscience is at an amazing place. we figure out -- we will figure out how the human brain works in the next 10 years. in a very specific way. how to the circuit to the circuit your brain do with they do right now? we will figure that out. the consequences for understanding exec autism, schizophrenia, and alzheimer's disease are going to be enormous. all those graduates thinking of going into that field, you have arrived at the right moment.
regenerative medicine. the ability to take some of your cells and convince them to be things you might need. maybe we won't need heart transplant, liver transplants, and others, because you can make her own. by the amazing things that are happening in regenerative medicine. what into that be great? [no audio] -- wouldn't that be great? [applause] it has now become an opportunity to take apart the causes of illness across many different kinds of categories and puts us in a position where all of us can pretty soon be able to take advantage of that in planning our own health care maintenance and managing any illnesses that come along, moving away from one side all fits medicine to something about the individual. if you're interested, you can be part of a national experience on how to use that information in
the best possible way. ,ou can sign up for all of us looked that up on the web, and all of us will ask one million americans to take part in a long-term city of how studies of environments and inheritance can teach us what are the real causes of illness and what to do about it. that is something we have never had the boldness to try before and we will do it. we will see what we can learn and you can be part of it. are you graduates in parents, and grandparents, come on. watch for this. here, andut how i got you can decide if it was appropriate again. -- but it is a commencement address. it's like a sermon, you can only have three points. [applause] -- [laughter] we should stop her
minute and reflect where you have been and where you're going. first of all, something to pay attention to, you all will need to be prepared for dramatic change going forward. whatever the field is that you are in, you won't be able to imagine what it looks like in 10 or 20 years. i promise you that. that is certainly true in science and technology. it'll will be true in health care, it's needs to be because our health care is far from optimum at this moment. i mentioned the idea of integrating environmental and genetic information into your own health maintenance. all of you will have the chance to do that. predict that virtually everybody in this room will have their genome sequence in the next 10 or 20 years. has dropped in cost over the past 10 years. be sure your information is yours and it is secure. so, be prepared for dramatic change. don't fight it off. embrace it.
doors are going to open for you. doors that you didn't expect, like that one was when i got called to become a federal employee for the genome project. the card when that happens. is that really my next calling? other doors that you were counting on are going to close. those can be painful and hurtful, it's a always offer an opportunity. first point, be prepared for the dramatic change. second point, which i alluded to, your path is not always going to be smooth. , and manyy know that of you have already faced tough bumps in the road to get here, but you got here. that is a credit to you are. life doesn't owe you, necessarily, a smooth path from here on. it will, undoubtedly, we do into wishedthat you hadn't happened. are you prepared for that? are you in a place where you
have the strength and sense of a foundation to be able to deal with that? that's certainly happen to all of us, and me. as a scientist, the darkest hour in my scientific career was 20 years ago. when it was revealed a graduate student in my own program was fabricating data. he knew with the correct answer was and if it didn't work, he made it work and fabricated it. it resulted in the need for very public disclosure, a front-page story in the new york times, a retraction for multiple papers that had data in it that we cannot verify. or scientist to be in the midst something that is not true, and not something to because you misinterpreted it
but, rather, because you made it up. that is the lowest point. that was a learning experience about how never to be so confident in yourself that you are really sure of anything around you. , butave to be a skeptic you also have to take responsibility. we did. that led to an opportunity to educate a lot of other easy itsts about how is to get into this. tragedy is going to happen in your life. the scientist to works on some diseases that are particularly likely to take the lives of , the tragedies happen all too often. my lab works on this rare form of premature aging and the kids aged seven times the normal rate. they are extremely rare, and there are only a few dozen kids live in the united states have this disease. you study them closely and come up with a strategy for treatment after discovering the genetic causes. i confess, i get attached to
these kids. attachedrly attacks -- to one that was a subject of an hbo special according to life of sam at the age of 16 knowing that the clock was running out on him. he told the world how to live their lives. can you imagine that? the courageous ms., the vision of that? ness, andurageous m the vision of that? sam died last year. i'm determined to find a cure for it. what do you do when this happens? do collapse? or does it increase your determination to work harder? that second point, your path would not be smooth, be ready for that. third point, member-said three, so you are almost home. [laughter] this is a little more obligated.
clarify, all of you, your definition of success. what is that? by being here as graduate, you have succeeded, but succeeded at what? if you could time find to read pickook in the next month, up a book by david brooks called the road to character. a very thought-provoking book. he calls out our current culture in a way that we needed to pay attention to. what is it that we are basically attaching ourselves to as far as the definition of success? it seems to be about congressman. maybe it ought to be about character. -- it seems to be about accomplishments. on you spending your time resume virtues or are you spending your time on what might be called eulogy of virtues.
what people will say about you. where, in amate day few words, they are trying to capture who you work and what you did to make the world a better place. resume virtues or eulogy virtues. i fear our focus on resumes can be pretty overpowering. our current, competitive american culture, and we need to stop and think about that. i hope you will think about it right now. your resume will tell few handling those failures and tragedies that i talked about a minute to go. your resume will help you with relationships. whether they are romantic or with your family or friends. count alationships will lot when that eulogy is spoken, but you won't be putting them on your cv. your resume virtues may distract you from deep thinking about life's purpose and meaning, which is really what one needs to build character.
i know smu cares deeply about this issue, about developing character, and it is wonderful to be here to get this message, because i know you heard it before, but maybe in a different way. it is character that we all seek is the definition of success, if that's the case, then what is your true north? character has to be built on foundation. what is your worldview? frederick nietzsche is not my favorite philosopher, but he had it right in a single sentence. live --has a wide to why to live can bear almost any power. anyh how. he who has a why to live, can how."ny
what is your wide that enables you to figure out how to deal with whatever comes along -- enablesyour why that you to figure out how to deal with whatever comes along? i was in love with second-order differential equations. [laughter] i was devoted to reduction of thinking. having had very little exposure about what faith means, i was an bordering closely to atheism. i didn't know the term then, is perhaps all of the well-educated graduates do. i was becoming an adherent of what you call metaphysical naturalism. truth, nothere was no truth that couldn't be discovered by science. that was it. material is -- a materialist view taken to the extreme. issue quite do this
the mechanics and discovered biology but ended up in medical school. my metaphysical naturalism started to fall apart. as i dealt daily with death and dying of good north carolina people, my perspective felt very cold and brittle and unsatisfying. one of my patients, an elderly woman with advanced heart disease, share her faith with me one day. making me squirm a bit and, she turned and asked me directly, " dr., you haven't said anything. what you believe?" that moment burned into my brain, i realized, i don't have an answer to this. i'm a scientist. i'm supposed to make decisions about something really important based on looking at the evidence, i not never actually considered that there was evidence for or against faith. that is unsettling. i was, at the same time, put questions. the how
how can i get through this long night on call? how can i feel so lonely when i'm never alone? how good the forgiven when i'm such a imperfect husband and father? how can i find something you call peace and joy? how can i make the world a better place? how can i figure out whether there is a god? and if so, whether that's got cares about me. metaphysical naturalism headed no help to provide because that was a white that couldn't address the how -- that was a why that couldn't address the how. i had to explore this. theuld not remember question for my patients without having a better answer. expectation that the exploration would simply further
strengthened my atheism, i began a two-year exploration to try to figure out really, what is the truth there and what is the evidence? that shocked to find out in fact, the evidence in favor of the existence of god is a lot more compelling than the evidence against. i did not realize that. a purely rational perspective, the position of strict atheism is the least defensible. to say that i does so much that i can include the possibility of god has to be the ultimate man being to be able to say. a bunch ofng to pastors, professors, and particularly by the writings of paths lewis, i found the toward a richly satisfying faith and the god of reason and unimaginable intelligence. not a god of ignorance and superstition at all. which is what i had thought. i had no real training as a
i had many misconceptions. i discovered a creature god who helped me to see that science could be a form of worship. i got who could be found in a laboratory, and not in the -- and not just in the cathedral. i got who knew my need of forgiveness and gave it freely. most of all, a god of love. providing the ultimate answer to the why that i was seeking answers for. i realized the description of a scientist's spiritual journey may make absolutely no sense to some of you. most of you will find the occasion, the need to make such a journey sometimes. many of you have already done so. for others, it lies ahead or you are in the middle of it. that's maybeof all we should all be in the middle of it. some will put it off and cram for exams at the end of life. don't wait too long, got my give your pop quiz.
[laughter] god might give you a pop quiz. [applause] all sounds a little philosophical, salome why this up with a story. -- so let me wind this up with a story. i was interested in global health and i had a friend who had done a lot of mission work in west africa. he likely up to go to a two-week rotation in a mission hospital .n the delta region i was excited about it, but, to be honest, i was thinking about this as a resume virtue. western physician goes to nigeria and everything changes because he is so knowledgeable and so smart. [laughter] that is not how it works. i got there, i realize my western training wasn't all that helpful.
i was saying diseases that had only been words on the page before. the laboratory services in this little hospital or nonexistent. all had was a physical diagnosis and a history, and many times, i came up empty. i had to see 60 patients afternoon after afternoon. it was exhausting. it was discouraging. it seemed like whatever i could do, was immediately countered by that was health system utterly broken. i may temporarily help somebody that could go back to a system of dirty water, poor nutrition, and infectious diseases. and sooner or later, something bad would happen anyhow. i got to a low point after a week. i felt like a failure, both discouraged. i asked a lot of how questions. how my going to get through this? then one farmer came into to the clinic that was very ill, and had been, over the course of a
few days, developing massive swelling of his legs it was very mysterious what was going on. exam, itr his physical was clear that he probably had a collection of fluid around his heart called a pericardial pollution. that's most likely caused by tuberculosis. if something wasn't done, he would surely die in a matter of a day or two. i had never done a procedure that requires sticking a needle directly into the area of the heart to draw that fluid off. if you go little too far, you can imagine the consequences. i was the only person available to try this. i felt i had to. by god's grace, it worked. the fluid was drawn off and, when i came to see him the next ofning, sitting on the side his bed reading his bible, he looks pretty good. thisll felt discouragement. he still had tuberculosis. to treat him with take a years worth of medicines, it wasn't
clear if they would be available, whether he could take them, so i was still in my gloomy state. he had some insight. i walked up to his bed and he said, you know, you seem different than the other doctors around here. have you recently arrived? [laughter] i was kind of irritated, i didn't think it was that obvious. [laughter] his insights got even deeper. thaty, i have a sense you're wondering why you came here. wow, i didn't realize i was that transparent. then, he gave me this incredible gift. he said i have an answer for you. you came here for one reason doctor. you came here for me. even now, all these years later, i get a chill when i think of that moment. what a remarkable experience.
two individuals who cannot be more different in their culture and geography, their ethnicity, background, and that young man gave me theand he healing gifts are money me what this is really all about. it's about love between individuals that makes no sense. that agape love that one tries to give. once you have the experience of realizing that it happened, it is the sweetest joy. experience that told me that i had my framework messed up. how, but thethe why. the god of love and assess that is the god of love manifested in this farmer and i will cling to that every time i start to get mixed up about the where, how, and why should be. the time is passing and i feel the thought maybe creeping into the minds of some you. the only white i have is why did this -- italy why i have is why did they let this guy gone so long?
[laughter] let's summarize. be prepared for the unexpected, yes, second, embrace change. third, be prepared to make the best of those failures. wait, that's second. third, focus on eulogy birchers over resume virtue. discover your true north and figure out what's at why is. one more bit of advice. don't forget to have some fun. fun is a little bit of a difficult topic to lecture
about. maybe there is another way we can bring this to a much overdue close, which is more of a demonstration, i hope, of what you might consider would be a little bit of fun. there is a drink over here that looks like it is over the dead body. i will have to see what it really is. [laughter] [applause] [cheering] ♪ i yes, music has a way of ruining all sorts of things. [laughter] otherwise dignified experiences. this is a song for you graduates. and, the faculty may or may not appreciate it. [laughter] it is about the student experience, at least, less of it
is in play get to the last part. then it's about me. [laughter] but yes, tongue and cheek and now. don't anybody get offended. this is what it is like to be a student of these days in universities somewhere. books, i bought the lived in the dorms, followed directions. hard, made studied lots of friends that had connections. ♪ i crammed, they gave me great, and may i say, not in a fair way. [laughter] what's more, much more than this, i did it their way. [applause]
i learned, so many things, although i know, i'll never use them. [laughter] took were allat i required i didn't choose them. survive itsthat you best to play the doctrinaire way. , and did ited down their way. whye were times, i wondered , i had to cringe when i could fly. all, my doubts, but after i cooked my wings and learned to crawl. -- clipped my wings and learn to crawl. in the end, i did it their way. [applause]
now for my verse. [laughter] ♪ but now, my fine young friends, now that i am a full professor. , i have become the cruel oh president with me, i hope you'll see, the double heat is a highway. and yes, you'll learn its best, to do it my way. [applause] there is more, there's more, there's more. well i'm just a man, what can i do? open your books read chapter
>> while kids made fun of my hearing aids, i told them they were big love the bubblegum. speech,s make fun of my i just my defense and say, my sister doesn't talk funny, she just has a strange accent because her parents are foreign spies. it was when i faced my biggest barrier, my own attitude about my hearing. my parents helped me understand that deafness was on my mind and wasn't necessarily in my views.
it happened when they got the signto put up a saying deaf child in the area. the last thing i wanted people to do was remind themselves that i was disabled. my parents said the sign wasn't for the disabled, it was an announcement, a celebration, this people were marble in the neighborhood. vel in the neighborhood. instead of slowing down because of death row lives here, see this on a different way. marlee, it said i'm want to stop by? i will be a best friend. -- what'st way great way to take the disk out of disability.
that became one of the defining moments of my life. it is why i use it for the title of my first novel. it's about a young girl who happens to be deaf, dealing with the ups and downs of growing up in the suburb of chicago over the course of the summer. are toy on c-span, we show you videos from the top 21 c-spanrs in this year's' studentcam competition. the 2017 contest. all of thetering thi first and second prize winners. videos.l out of the 150 there are 16 second prize prizes and one grand winner. we announce the winners earlier this year, but as they screw your is wrapping up, we thought today would be a good opportunity to honor those winners once again as a group,
and congratulate them for their hard work and show you the very best of those students who entered this year's competition. this year's theme was your message to washington. what is the most urgent issue for the president and congress to address in 2017 so that you don't feel left out? we will ask you to call us in a little while with what you think answer to theest question is. we are halfway through the day of the block of videos over the next three hours. in about 90 minutes, we take a break and take her phone calls to see what you think. maybe some of these videos will give you ideas on what you think the president and congress should take up. then, we will take more of your calls at the end after we show you the grand prize of winning video. here is how studentcam works in case you are not familiar with the contest. each your we invite middle and high school students